Ringo Starr is a beast of a drummer. Yes, Starr is a beast of a drummer. Without him, The Beatles could never have soared, without his backbeat, the band would never have called in their propulsive backbeats, and without his steady hand, the three voices would have caterwauled onstage. It’s unlikely that the band could have recorded the freewheeling Please Please Me with founding member Pete Best on percussion duties, and it’s unlikely he could have developed into the type of drummer who could flit from proto-metal (‘Helter Skelter’) to vaudeville (‘Honey Pie’) over the space of a single album.
Every drummer has their set of favourite percussionists, just as every drummer has their favourite drum performance. And for Starr, his number one performance is on ‘Rain’, the explosive rocker that was heard on the flip side of ‘Paperback Writer.’
“I used to say ‘Rain’ because I felt ‘Rain’ – that was another character playing drums itself,” Starr recalled, detailing the vitality and character of the set. “The way I play, I’m more of there’s breaks and tom-toms, and [‘Rain’] was all on the snare. So I used to say that. That drove people mad,” he said of the 1966 B-side. So, ‘Rain’ is number one, but what were his other drum fills?
He continued: “‘Let It Be’ – not bad. I mean, ‘Paperback Writer’ rocks. The crazy thing is, when the ‘Let It Be’ [reissue] came out, the remaster, they have this new [surround sound] system, Atmos, and we went to England for it.”
Interestingly, Starr has come to criticise some of the drum fills that have helped define his trajectory, but that’s also the prerogative of an artist to do so. He heard ‘Let It Be’ for the first time in a while with Paul McCartney, and came to realise that some of the fills he used in the group’s past work were a little exuberant.
“And Paul [McCartney] and I were in this crowd of people listening, and I said, ‘I’m too busy on this record!’ I told him it was too busy. You know, these are just thoughts that go through my head.”
Starr helped revolutionise the drama, vigour, versatility and vehicular adrenaline behind the art of drumming. As to where it might have brought it into the 1970s is a moot point, as the drummer largely abandoned percussion to focus on singing and acting during the decade. Bafflingly, Starr actually asked other drummers – including Jim Keltner – to play drums on his solo albums.
Why? Ask him. Perhaps he felt slighted by the trendy presses who considered his drumming slight compared to the behemothic drums John Bonham and Ginger Baker favoured, or perhaps he felt he wanted to focus on his singing abilities. Or maybe he felt like pursuing other activities, having performed some of the more impressive drum fills in 1960s rock. And when you listen to ‘Rain’, ‘Paperback Writer’ and ‘Let It Be’, can you really blame him? I know I can’t, and I doubt he can either.